Russell Morris struck creative gold when his 2012 album Sharkmouth mined the colourful characters of Australia’s past.
The blues and roots album landed Morris his first ARIA award after a 40-plus year career and became one of the biggest selling Australian albums of 2013.
For Van Diemen’s Land, the second in a trilogy of albums, Morris has again teamed up with Sharkmouth producer Mitch Cairns to pen 13 more songs about historic Australian figures and events.
The result is a worthy successor to Sharkmouth featuring tales such as the Eureka Stockade, Breaker Morant and the 1850s gold rush in Bendigo and Ballarat among others.
Whether he is rocking along like on Dexter’s Big Tin Can or tearing up dirty blues as on the title track, Morris shows he has a great feel for the genre.
When he slows things down, Morris’ storytelling comes into its own, particularly on Loch Ard Gorge, where sorrowful cello and light-as-a-feather guitar convey the haunting tale of the ship that foundered off Victoria’s south coast in 1878. It’s a standout and adds a darker tone to contrast many of the upbeat tracks.
Van Diemen’s Land also features some excellent contributions from Joe Camilleri, Rick Springfield, Rob Hirst (Midnight Oil), Ross Hannaford (Daddy Cool), Vika and Linda Bull (The Black Sorrows), Phil Manning (Chain) and Scott Owen (The Living End).
If you enjoy a well-crafted yarn backed by impassioned playing of blues, folk and roots then Van Diemen’s Land has plenty to savour.
* Van Diemen’s Land (Fanfare Records/EMI) is released on April 11.
* Morris will team up with Leo Sayer, Joe Camilleri and Richard Clapton for the APIA Good Times national tour from April 30 to May 31.